Sunday, December 04, 2011

NaNoWriMo Results

Once again November has ended and with it NaNoWriMo. This year I wrote 26,405 words, a little over half of the amount necessary to "win". But I hardly consider myself a loser.

Twenty-six thousand words in one month is a significant amount of writing. I got back into the habit of writing new words on a regular basis. Before NaNo started, I did the planning for this book, which is a sequel to the novel that I'm now submitting to a critique group. I developed a couple of interesting characters. I had that wonderful experience of having them do unexpected things, of telling me the story instead of the other way around.


I don't usually write about writing on this blog. There are too many unpublished (prepublished/wannabe/amateur) writers blogging about their journey to publication. Our stories are pretty much all the same. We discover the same books, the same newbie mistakes that beginning writers have to learn to correct, the same articles online, the same blogs written by other writers, published and unpublished. The world doesn't need another one of those. However, I'm going to indulge myself a little this morning.

I've done a lot of thinking about the left brain/right brain schism we all have during the past month. If you don't know, the left brain is responsible for logical functions like math and the right brain is where most of our creativity comes from. They're two entirely different ways of thinking. That part I wrote about the characters taking over? Yeah, that's the right brain or, as artists like to refer to it, the muse, letting loose, being given free rein to play in the fields of fantasy.

I've made my living as a computer programmer for most of my life. Guess which side of the brain that comes from? Oh, there's some creative aspects to programming. There are the times when you come up with an out-of-the-box solution to a problem or when you're entranced by the elegance of code you write. But, for the most part, it's logically putting together a set of instructions that a series of logic gates can follow.

Writing fiction is primarily a right brain activity. Just as programming isn't all logic, writing isn't all muse. There are definite structures to stories, a pattern that people expect that, if it isn't followed, will leave a reader dissatisfied. We all know that feeling of getting to the end of a book and having too many loose ends that aren't tied up or having what has traditionally been referred to as a deus ex machina rescue the hero and save civilization. The muse, if left to herself (and mine is definitely feminine), will ramble all over the place, decide that aliens landing in a flying saucer to end nuclear war is a perfectly good way to resolve your story, and not care that you didn't tell the reader what happened to the orphan lost in the snowstorm at the end.

I don't know about anyone else, but I can feel which side of my brain is in control. I write morning pages, a journal of free associations, planning, rambling and miscellaneous thoughts while drinking my first cup of coffee. This practice comes from reading Julia Cameron's "The Artist's Way" many years ago. Overnight your right brain is most active, creating all those dreams with the weird stuff in them. Your right brain doesn't care that you can't actually fly; you'll do it in your dreams anyway. So, while the right brain is still more or less in control, it's a good time to brainstorm about characters and stories and plot ideas. That's when I believe I can write a time travel romance where aliens really are responsible for some of the plot.

As it gets closer to the time I have to get ready for work, my left brain kicks in, nagging me to stop writing about all this stuff and think about what I'm going to make for lunch, what I'm going to wear, what I need to do at my job that day. My left brain stays in control pretty much all day because of the nature of the job and the fact that you need to pay attention while driving and stuff.

And that's why it's so hard for me to get back to writing in the evening. It's hard to shut down the left brain and let the right brain out to play when you're tired and wound up from a day at work. And, if I do make that effort, my muse is rather sulky and liable to toss me ideas I can't use, words that make no sense, diversions that will only need to be cut from the final manuscript.

For most NaNo participants, the drivel is fine. If you read the forum boards, suggestions for making the day's word count include plot bunnies and random challenges to work a frog and a robot into your plot and other insane ideas. The main concept behind NaNo is to silence your inner editor, a.k.a. the left side of your brain, and let your muse write a novel. The first two years I participated, I really needed to do this. It worked wonderfully for me.

But I've gotten past that blockage and now want to write "real" novels, not just make sure I write 1667 words every day during November. And it's too difficult for me to switch to right brain mode after being in left brain mode all day and write a lot. According to my tracking spreadsheet, I averaged 880 words per day. But it was more variable than that number would imply. If I wrote more than 1,000 words one day, I'd probably write only 600 words the next day. If I wrote 2,000 on another day, there was a good chance I wouldn't write anything the next day.

And that's okay. Sometimes. Diana Gabaldon, author of the Outlander series, which are huge fantasy books, told me at a signing that she writes slow. Her books come out years apart. George R.R. Martin, of "A Game of Thrones" fame, also takes years to write a single book. This seems to be acceptable in the fantasy world.

However, in the world of cozy mysteries, publishers expect a book a year from a series. The belief is that if you can't write a book a year, your readers will forget you and start buying someone else's books. And people like Dean Wesley Smith, who advocate self (or indie) publishing, insist that the secret to success in that world is having lots of books available for readers to buy. And Amanda Hocking and John Locke have shown that, for indie published authors, series are the way to go. Readers love series. After they finish one book, they want another one to tell them what happens next in the lives of those characters.

Which is why I decided to write a sequel to my first Community of Faith mystery during NaNo this year rather than that time travel romance with the aliens. Not that I don't want to write that time travel romance with aliens. I really do. But I made a choice because I want to build a career as a writer and, much as my muse hates to hear it, there are business decisions to be made in that case. One of which I'll have to make early next year. But that's the topic for another blog.
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